“S.” by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (Mulholland Books, 2013)

S.
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Some books are just good stories written by an author and thoroughly enjoyed by the reader. And a select few are works of art created by multiple authors and an incredible development team behind a daring publisher; S. is one of those books, perhaps the only one of its kind. A project that has been years in the making, beginning as an idea between two creative guys that became something much bigger when Mulholland Books agreed to publish it and employed the abilities of a team of editors, copyeditors and book development people to create a book that is much more than just any old book.

S. works on many levels. If Inception could be a book, this would be it.

Look Inside

At the deepest level is an old forgotten book by a once well-known author whose life has been shrouded in mystery and whose identity still remains in question. It is called Ship of Theseus about a person known as “S” who awakes not knowing who he is and anything about his life, as he begins a very strange journey into finding answers to his many questions.

At the next level is the translator of the Ship of Theseus who was a huge fan of V. M. Straka’s work, so much so that they were in a relationship, though it is unknown whether the author and translator were ever able to confess their love for each other. However, the translator and author have left secreted messages and ciphers in the text as well as within the footnotes. So while the translator is educating the reader on the story and facts about the book and what she knew about the author, she is also secretly communicating with Straka.

S2

Up one level we have the completed old book which is what the reader holds in their hands when they take it out of the slipcase.  The level of detail that the publisher went to recreating this old book is nothing short of astounding, with stamped check out dates, stains and marks on some of the pages, and an aged feel and color to the pages; their even seems to be a musty smell about the volume. And within the margins and spaces around the text we have a former teacher and an undergrad student conversing back and forth about the text, the author, life, and eventually their own lives and feelings towards each other, even though they don’t physically meet for a long time.

There are a couple sub-levels within this particular level as the two “main” characters are not simply conversing back and forth but are doing so at different points in their lives. Eric has read the book a number of times, and has notations from the first time he read it when he was a teenager in pencil, and then further comments between Jennifer and he at different points in time, when they know different things about each other.

Then there are the number of pieces of media secreted within the pages: photos, letters between Eric and Jennifer, but also relating to Ship of Theseus; postcards and notes and an incredibly detailed map drawn upon a napkin. Again, the detail that went into creating these items is nothing short of astonishing, with the old photos with logo prints on the back, aged postcards, letters with ink smudges and coffee stains. As for the map, it is drawn in pen on a college napkin that still perfectly, delicately folds to show the school logo.

map

At the final level is the reader opening the pages of S. for the first time, taking in all these levels and each of the stories going on at each level. It can be read in certain ways and is the sort of book that can benefit from being read multiple times. Ultimately, it is a book unlike any other, likely unlike anything you have read before. But it will be a journey you won’t soon forget, and one you can return to whenever you want.

Originally written on August 14, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of S. from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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